Sunday, December 26, 2010

Greetings and a great season to my readers. Here, for more holiday enjoyment, is the next episode of Mysteries at the Museum. This show will air on The Travel Channel on Tuesday, Dec. 28.

Franklin Institute: The Franklin Institute holds one of the first electronic instruments, but this warbling wonder is more than just a footnote in musical history. How did this play a part in triggering one of the biggest spy scandals of the century?

Washington State History Museum: On display at the Washington State History Museum is a 600 lb hunk of concrete with a disastrous past. More than a piece of junkyard scrap, this is a remnant from one of the most catastrophic engineering failures in U.S. history: the collapse of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. How did this state of the art bridge fail so spectacularly?

Strong Museum of Play: At the Strong Museum of Play in Rochester, New York, poised amongst history’s greatest toys, is a small plastic egg filled with some beloved bouncing goo: Silly Putty. Did you know that this sensational children’s novelty originated from a war shortage?

Detroit Science Center: On display at the Detroit Science Center is a truly macabre exhibit: 36 men, women and children that died two centuries ago are mysteriously preserved. But they aren’t the carefully prepared mummies of Egyptian royalty. These bodies were preserved by something else – and for decades science has struggled to figure out how… until now.

Johnston Ridge Observatory: At the Johnston Observatory in Gifford Pinchot National Forrest, the splintered remains of what was once a mighty 100 foot Hemlock tree stands as a visceral reminder. Like millions of other trees, it was napped like a toothpick by a blast 1600 times more powerful than an atom bomb. What’s capable of such a tremendous explosion?

Mariner’s Museum: At the Mariners’ Museum in Newport ,Virginia, thousands of artifacts chronicle man’s relationship with the sea. But one artifact, an ordinary supply box, speaks of the sea’s tremendous and mysterious powers. The box belonged to the USS Cyclops, a colossal ship that has since passed into legend. What happened to this notorious ship, and does this box hold any answers?

For all of you I'm wishing a happy and prosperous 2011.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

More Mysteries for Holiday Watching

Tuesday Dec. 21 brings an exciting new episode on the Travel Channel's series on Mysteries at the Museum: This is Volume 7 of the series.  Take a moment to sit back, put your feet up, and enjoy some of our unique history that you
didn't know about. It might be right next door.

Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace, National Historic Site: Tucked away on the east side of Manhattan is Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood home. Inside are two particular artifacts on display that had a bigger impact on Roosevelt’s life than any other. Both of these artifacts share a strange feature, and saved the life of one of America’s greatest statesmen.

The Western Reserve Historical Society: The Western Reserve Historical Society carefully preserves Cleveland’s legacy, but one set of the museum’s artifacts remains shrouded in mystery. They are five postcards from the 1950’s that hold a distinctly taunting tone. Who wrote them and why? The story starts in the midst of one of the worst killing sprees in American history…

Museum of Science and Industry: Inside Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry, there’s a vehicle that resembles a space hip or rocket, but it’s neither. In the 1960’s this amazing automobile helped a young California hot rod driver do something no one had ever done before- travel over 407 mph on land.

Titanic Historical Society: In Massachusetts there’s a museum that is dedicated to shedding new light on the ill-fated voyage of the world’s most famous ocean liner. Inside this official Titanic museum there is a single faded piece of paper. Do you know why this wireless telegram was unable to save the Titanic from her tragic fate?

Henry Ford Museum: On the outskirts of Detroit, the famed motor city, is the Henry Ford Museum. On display is a simple yellow city bus where visitors can see for themselves the very seat where Rosa Parks took a historical stand, by simply sitting down. But this story didn’t play out the way most of believe…

Big Foot Discovery Museum: Nestled in the heart of Northern California’s epic red wood forests is a museum dedicated to the region’s most famous alleged inhabitant, Big Foot. Can a recently discovered primate tooth put an end to the age old debate of whether or not big foot is real?

To all my readers, may your holidays bring health and happiness.

Friday, December 10, 2010

More Museum Mysteries

Before long, the Mysteries at the Museum series will be complete, but for now here's another episode for Tuesday, Dec. 14 on the Travel Channel. Hope my readers are enjoying these programs, which delve into some fascinating subjects about our history.

Mysteries at the Museum: Volume 7

Gerald R. Ford Museum: At the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum, a vintage tape recorder from the 1970s was used inside America’s most important Executive Office. What incriminating conversations did this machine record? And how would it ultimately help destroy an American President?

The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History: The National Museum of Nuclear Science and History houses a small antique vial which lies at the center of one of America’s strangest medical mysteries. The vial once held a drug known as Radithor, and some doctors touted it as the “greatest therapeutic force known to mankind”, but this revolutionary medicine was really a potion of death.

National Museum of American History: On display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, is a relic from a volatile era in American history. It appears to be an ordinary restaurant lunch counter accompanied by four fading vinyl chairs. How did this lunch counter becomes center stage in an event that would help overturn centuries of oppression, and change America forever?

The Museum of Science and Industry: Inside Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry there’s a giant World War Two Submarine. It’s a German “U-Boat”, known by its infamous number, 5-0-5. But during the war U-505 mysteriously vanished. How did U-505 end up in Chicago, and how did its sudden disappearance from battle nearly 70 years ago help bring Germany’s invincible U-Boat fleet to its knees?

New Jersey State Police Museum: Secured inside the NJ State Police Museum, sealed in plastic, is a faded piece of paper. It’s inscribed in dark ink, in sloppy handwriting, and it’s stamped with a curious insignia. At first glance, this seventy eight year old document looks inconsequential, but it sparked one of the biggest manhunts in American history. Was the person who wrote this note ever brought to justice?

Ruidoso River Museum: At the River Museum there’s an artifact from one of the most famous western tales ever told. It’s a Colt Thunderer revolver. The polished, ornately etched pistol was presented to one of New Mexico’s most famous Sheriffs, Pat Garrett… as a reward for killing America’s most legendary outlaw, Billy the Kid. But did Pat Garrett really kill the ‘Kid’?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Museum Mysteries

Hi Readers: Here, as promised, is the next volume in the Travel Channels' Tuesday night show, Mysteries at the Museum.

Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum: Inside a giant airplane hangar at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum, there’s a flying machine whose size and reputation dwarfs all others, but this one of a kind aircraft never flew a single mission. In fact, many believed it couldn’t fly at all. So why was the “Spruce Goose” even built?

The Field Museum of Natural History: The star attraction at Chicago, Field Museum is a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton named “Sue”. It is the largest most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found, and this makes Sue the key piece of evidence in unraveling a mystery that has baffled scientists since the very first T-Rex fossil was discovered in 1902… What was life like for the world’s largest prehistoric predator?

William McKinley Presidential Museum: The William McKinley Presidential Museum houses a nightshirt once worn by McKinley that bears a a tear down the back. How did this tear come to be? The answers lie within the mystery of President McKinley’s final moments – a tragic demise that changed the history of the Presidency.

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum of Art: Hanging amid fantastic works of art by Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Matisse and numerous others at this museum, are four empty picture frames. These frames hang as symbolic reminder of a shocking crime, and a 20 year old hunt to find out who was behind the biggest art heist in US history.

Johnstown Flood Museum: At a Pennsylvanian museum that’s dedicated to preserving the city’s rich cultural heritage, a 19th century brass pocket watch actually holds one of the Nations’ most unforgettable stories. It all begins with the time frozen on the watch’s face- a time that changed America forever.

Strong National Museum of Play: Not far from the shores of Lake Ontario in Rochester, New York, a museum is dedicated solely to the study of play, and one item here was actually an accidental byproduct of America’s involvement in a global war. Can you guess what childhood favorite this could be?

Find out the answers to these questions and more by tuning-in to Mysteries at the Museum Tuesday at 9 E/P on Travel Channel. Enjoy the show, and secrets that will be revealed.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

An Interview with Patricia Stoltey

Today I welcome author Patricia Stoltey to my Historical Fiction blog. Readers, pull up a chair and let's talk about books. 

Joyce: Hi Pat, and thanks for taking the time from your busy schedule to answer some questions for our readers. I’m always curious as to when an author began writing, and how long it took to get published.

Pat: We’re not going to count the box of really bad poetry and short stories I wrote in my 20s and 30s, are we? My first attempt at a novel was The Troubleshooter, an action-adventure tale my brother and I wrote in the mid-80s. That book never made it to print, but Books in Motion turned the umpteenth revision into an audiobook in 1999. That only took thirteen years. Not bad for a first novel. The first draft of my second novel, an attempt at international intrigue and suspense, sits on a table in my office, waiting for me to decide it’s worth a rewrite from beginning to end.

My writing life improved in fall 2003. I’d retired from a demanding job in the real world and realized I had to find more to do than read novels and crochet afghans, I took a novel-writing class from a local author. When the class was over, several of the attendees got together and formed a critique group. The novel I started for that class was The Prairie Grass Murders, published in hardcover in 2007.

Joyce: How did you break into publishing, Pat?

Pat: After completing the4th draft of The Prairie Grass Murders, I unsuccessfully pitched it to an agent at the 2004 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference. After a few more queries also proved unsuccessful, I did another major revision, then pitched that 5th draft during a critique workshop at the 2005 conference. This time I received valuable feedback from the editor running the workshop, as well as an invitation to submit after revising the manuscript once again. Draft number six was the winner. My contract with Five Star/Gage led to a hard cover edition aimed at the library market.

The Prairie Grass Murders was also an audiobook with Books in Motion and a mass market paperback reprint with Harlequin Worldwide. The second Sylvia and Willie mystery, The Desert Hedge Murders, is now available in hard cover and as a Harlequin paperback.

Joyce: What genre or sub-genre do you write? Why did you choose this genre?

Pat: I focused on amateur sleuth mysteries for my first two books. I read a lot of mysteries and admired the way good authors think up plot twists, plant clues, and create great characters. I kept wondering if I could do that, so I finally gave it a try. I discovered it’s not as easy as it looks.

Joyce: (laughing). Nothing ever is, is it? So, tell us how much time you devote to writing each day.

Pat: I don’t write every day and that’s a problem I’m trying to overcome. After our books are published, we often get caught up in book promotion and spend way too much time at social media, personal appearances, conferences, and other opportunities to connect with readers. In the past, I’ve called myself a binge writer because I spend months thinking about a book without putting anything on paper, and then sit down and write like crazy until I finish a first draft. Lately, I haven’t even done that. It took me more than a year to get the revisions done on my last novel so I could start submitting to agents.

Joyce: Can we get a sneak peek at what you’re working on now?

Pat: Doing the queries and submissions for a historical women’s fiction, which has a working title of Wishing Caswell Dead. I’m clearing up my schedule and cleaning my desk. I have the first draft of a suspense novel sitting on the floor, waiting for my subconscious to tell me how to fix problems with the plot. And I have that idea in the works for a new Sylvia and Willie mystery. I’m still keeping up with my blog, my work with Northern Colorado Writers which includes starting a new critique group next month, and doing guest spots for blogger friends.

Remember when I said I had retired from a demanding job in the real world? I’m working harder now than I ever did before, but I will admit, I love every minute of it.

Joyce: How do you write? Are you a pantser or a plotter? Is it your characters or your plot that influences you the most?

Pat: Mostly I’m a pantser. If I have a complicated plot, I’ll lay out the chapters with two or three sentences as a guide to what needs to happen at that stage of the story, but I never stick to the plan. Characters have a way of leading us down new and interesting paths as we write.

When I started the Sylvia and Willie mystery series, the setting came first because I wanted part of the story to take place in Illinois where I grew up. The plot idea came from the setting, and the characters fell into place last. With the second novel in the series, I already had the characters, so the plot developed from the protagonists’ family relationships.

Wishing Caswell Dead followed a completely different path. The main character came first.

Joyce: What was the most usual way you came up with a story idea? What made you think, ‘hey, I could make that into a story?’

Pat: The historical, Wishing Caswell Dead. First I had a dream about a thirteen-year-old girl in a dated photo. It looked like a tintype. I played with ideas about that girl’s life and turned the dream into a short story about young Jo Mae Proud. When I reread the story after receiving a few rejections from magazines, I realized I had a whole long list of questions about the other characters and what would happen to Jo Mae after the story ended. Now her tale is a 66,000 word novel. Of all the things I’ve written so far, this one is my favorite.

Joyce: I’m wondering how you do research for your books. Also, what’s the most interesting bit of research you’ve come across?

Pat: Back in the 80s when I was working on The Troubleshooter, I spent hours and hours in a university library. Times have changed. Now I do most of my research online. However, my investigations for Wishing Caswell Dead led me to a small prairie museum near Mahomet, Illinois, where I saw actual tools and furniture and farm equipment used in the 1800s. That’s a lot better than looking at pictures in a book or on the Internet.

The most interesting bit of research? I think it was the time I spent learning about the Kickapoo Indian Tribe. Kickapoo artifacts figured in the plot for The Prairie Grass Murders. And there’s a Kickapoo character in Wishing Caswell Dead. This tribe had a fascinating history as they moved from Wisconsin into Illinois and then across the Mississippi to a reservation in Kansas and other settlements in Mexico, yet we don’t read that much about them in Native American history.

Joyce: Thanks for talking with us about your books and your writing career. The Desert Hedge Murders has an intriguing title. I think I’ll start with that one first, and good luck with your next book.

Pat: It was my pleasure joining you today, Joyce. I hope your readers will drop by my blog ( ) from time to time to see what’s going on in my writing life. I feature guest author/bloggers from a variety of genres on Thursdays, so it’s a good place to find that next book to read. I’m on Facebook as Patricia Stoltey, and I’m also a big Twitter fan: @PStoltey.

Monday, November 29, 2010

More Mysteries at the Museum

Here, for my readers, is a taste of what will be on tomorrow night's Travel Channel series, Mysteries at the Museum. Image Image is of the Old Red Museum in Dallas, TX.
Mysteries at the Museum: Volume 5

Old Red Museum: In the collection of the Old Red Museum in Dallas, there’s a 44-caliber rifle with a sawed off stock. It looks like many weapons that have been modified by criminals, but it’s possible that this rifle may have been used in an infamous crime spree. Can you guess who the legendary criminal may be?

National Museum of the Marine Corps: In Quantico, Virginia at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, a tattered flag from World War Two’s epic battle for Iwo Jima became the subject of the Nation’s most famous war photograph. How did this Pulitzer Prize winning picture alter history and why do some people suspect that it isn’t everything it claims to be?

National Railroad Museum: The National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin houses an ultra-modern locomotive known as the Aerotrain. When it was unveiled in 1956, it was supposed to change the way Americans traveled. So what derailed this futuristic locomotive, and why aren’t we all riding Aerotrains today?

Scripps Institute of Oceanography: Behind the scenes at the Birch Aquarium in San Diego, there are specimens that hail from a realm nearly a mile underwater. They are rare and mysterious organisms that survive in an uncharted frontier known as the Abyss. Can you even imagine what these deep sea creatures could be?

Library of Congress: In the Library of Congress, a tattered diary provokes one of exploration’s fiercest debates; who was the first person to actually reach the North Pole?

National Museum of the United States Air Force: The National Museum of the United States Air Force displays an artifact that paved the way for the exploration of man’s final frontier. At the height of the Cold War, was a team of aeronautical engineers able to create a parachute system that would produce a safe, high altitude aircraft?

Enjoy the show!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Mysteries at the Museum

The Travel Channel has an ongoing program on Tuesdays that takes the viewer to different museums to witness the strange and unexplained. For those of you who are fond of mysteries, or museums, like I am, here are the upcoming museum spotlights for next Tuesday's show, the 4th in this very interesting series. 

Mysteries at the Museum: Volume 4

The History Museum at the Castle: In the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton, Wisconsin, a plaster bust is modeled after Harry Houdini, who has long passed on but whose mysterious talents still baffle the mind. Is it possible that this bust is actually possessed by the spirit of this famous magician? The answer lies in the suspicious circumstances that surround Houdini’s death.

The Henry Ford Museum: In Michigan, the Henry Ford Museum showcases an artifact that soared high above the roadways in 1926- a unique airplane named “The Josephine Ford”. At the time, the intrepid pilot of this airplane set out on a death defying flight to the end of the earth with one goal in mind. What was this pilot’s goal and why is his journey still shrouded in mystery?

Coos Historical and Maritime Museum: Located on Oregon’s rugged Coast at the Coos Historical and Maritime Museum, there is a peculiar object that looks like a piece of faming equipment, but in fact, it’s actually a piece from a diabolical weapon of mass destruction sent here by America’s former enemy. How did this artifact cause the only deaths resulting from enemy action to occur on mainland America during World War II?

The Chicago History Museum: A plain scrap of fabric, emblazoned with a striking design located at the Chicago History Museum was one of the banners designed for protests at the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Who made this flag and how did it play such a large role in changing the direction of our country?

Fall River Historical Society: The Fall River Historical Society in Fall River, Massachusettes houses an artifact that may have been the murder weapon in one of the most notorious unsolved murders in American history. This hatchet head was the key piece of evidence used against Lizzie Borden in the murders of her parents; but did she really commit the heinous crime?

National Museum of American History: Among the many thousands of objects at the National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian Institution, is a worn and weathered eighty year old briefcase. This attache once belonged to a lifelong politician and diplomat and held countless, top secret and sensitive government documents. Why do curators at the Smithsonian believe this briefcase was party to one watershed event that changed the history of the planet?

I'll be posting the next volume later, so you can see what's coming after this.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Launch at a Winery

My Daughter's Gourmet Creations

I had a very successful Book Launch/Wine Tasting event a few days ago, to celebrate the release of my new historical novel, The Tapestry Shop. Since it’s set in France, I thought a winery was the perfect place to have it. We had the whole area to ourselves, and the owner closed to the public. Invited guests ranged from librarians to author friends, and included family as well as my golfer friends. A local bookstore sold my books so I didn’t have to do anything but sign, which was wonderful because it gave me time to talk to everyone. Besides snacks and good wine, we munched on these fantastic creations which are my daughter’s specialty, her tasses de chocolat avec fruits et gâteau , shown here. Because the book is based on the life of a French poet/musician, I thought we needed music too. While it wasn’t authentic period music, a husband-and-wife team brought dulcimers and a guitar, which was perfect background music for a medieval atmosphere. This was a first for me, but it certainly won’t be the last. I’ll post more images of the event on my Facebook Author Page, .

Donna and Jeff, local musicians

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Renaissance Tapestry Exhibition

Most people who enjoy tapestries display them on a wall, but many people don’t realize the practical use of tapestries in times past. Tapestries have been around for hundreds of years, even in ancient civilizations, where they not only decorated the royal residence, and were hung around the royal bed for privacy, but were also used for burying the dead.

During the medieval period, churches recognized the powerful impact a Biblical scene would have on a congregation who could neither read nor write. Between that, and the show of grandeur that every European court craved, the tapestry industry thrived. Tapestries became so coveted that they were considered war prizes, and were taken by conquering armies and brought back to their country. This makes it almost impossible to trace the origin of rare tapestries, unless the artist depicted a recognizable scene, city, or siege.

Paris was the first city to open factories for the production of tapestries, most notably the Gobelins factory. During the Hundred Years Was, weavers moved north and into Belgium. My historical novel, The Tapestry Shop, opens in Arras, France, a place so famed for its tapestries that the city name, arras,  is now synonymous with the word tapestry. What I’d give to own one of those ancient tapestries, but of course they are in museums now, the few that exist, and are kept under carefully regulated temperature, light, and humidity.

For those of you within driving distance of Sarasota, Florida, the John Ringling Museum of Art has an exhibition of Renaissance tapestries from a museum in Vienna. The exhibition began in October and runs through Jan. 2, 2011. Here’s the link .

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Harpsichords in History

The distinctive sound produced by a harpsichord has always held a certain fascination for me. A solo instrument that somewhat resembles a piano, it predated the latter. The earliest representation of a harpsichord is from this sculpture (left), a 15th century altarpiece.

Using the elements of the organ and psaltery (respectively, a keyboard, and metal strings held taut with tuning pins), the harpsichord gradually developed over time, with an increase in the size of the soundboard and keyboard.

The earliest extant harpsichord was made in Italy. During the 17th century, Flemish harpsichord builders added a second manual, a useful innovation to accommodate transposition (playing in another key) to accommodate a singer’s vocal range.
French makers expanded the two-manual instrument, and later, the English developed an instrument with brilliant treble and a more resonant bass, which contrasted with the more delicate sound of the French instrument, more like a woodwind sound.

With the invention of the piano, harpsichords fell out of favor, but the instrument became popular again during the twentieth century, and was frequently used in concerts to lend authenticity to music composed for the harpsichord.

During the 1950s, harpsichord kits came into vogue. Through the years, I’ve always wanted to get a kit and build one, but the task of assembling the kit sounded daunting. I’m hoping some day to own a harpsichord. I have CDs of harpsichord music, and the sound evokes an image of an 18th-century parlor, complete with an elaborately-dressed girl seated at the keyboard—wonderful background music for a Renaissance historical, don’t you think?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Serenades Through History

I ask you, what can be more romantic than a serenade beneath your window? Even Romeo knew that, when courting Juliet. Do fraternities still serenade freshman girls below their dorm windows? I hope so, because scenes like that are the moments that make memories.

During the 13th century, singers and performers played an active role in politics, writing poems of praise to a leader, or creating satirical plays about local politicians. Not to be outdone, there were also women composers of courtly love songs. The women were known as troubaritz, and they wrote songs and sometimes performed them in court or at secular public gatherings.

In my October release, The Tapestry Shop, the main character, Adam, is a trouvere, a poet/musician in northern France, similar to the troubadours of southern France. His songs draw the attention of a magistrate, which leads to a trail of difficulties. Later, when Adam meets Catherine in a tapestry shop, there is an instant attraction, but he later learns that she will join the crusades, a mission he does not support.

Do any of you have a memory of being sung to? If so, I’d love to hear about it, so leave a comment. Who knows? You may find yourself in one of my books, wearing a low-necked crimson gown trimmed with seed pearls, being entertained by a troubadour.

Snippets from early reviews for The Tapestry Shop:

from Renaissance Magazine:  “The Tapestry Shop” brilliantly illuminates the nuances of daily medieval life … is highly recommended and will convince the reader to set out on a quest in search of additional historical fiction novels by Joyce Elson Moore.

from Romance Reviews Today:  …meticulously researched … Beautifully written, this is an excellent novel for the fan of historical fiction.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Katharine Ashe on Knights and Rogues

History's Lures

I am an author of historical romance. My debut Regency-era romance, SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, features a scandalous beauty who finds herself imprisoned aboard a pirate ship with a dashing lord in disguise to fulfill a dangerous mission.

But, like my hero in SWEPT AWAY BY A KISS, I have two identities. Several times a week I don cap and gown (figuratively speaking) as a professor of medieval history.

These identities rarely mingle. My colleagues at the university don’t know I write romance, and most of my writer friends don’t much care that I’m a professor. But in my heart and soul they are inextricable. Because, like you, I simply adore history.

Allow me, if you will, to show you why.

In one 13th-century tale, a peasant’s wife prepares for a visit from her lover, the local chaplain. But, oh no! Home comes her oafish husband from work in the middle of the day. He feels wretched, so she nurses him, eventually exclaiming that he must be dying. Settling him in bed, she hurries off to fetch the chaplain to give her poor husband his Last Rites. The chaplain arrives and blesses the peasant (but being a man of at least some scruples, he forebears saying the actual prayer for the dying). Soon enough wife and chaplain convince the gullible husband he’s dead, and begin going at it in the straw nearby. The peasant hears noises, opens his eyes, sees the chaplain enjoying his wife, and shouts to the chaplain, “If I weren’t dead, you certainly would catch hell.” The chaplain assures him that if he weren’t dead he wouldn’t be there cuckolding him, and the peasant relapses into contented idiocy.

Then of course there are other sorts of stories of misbegotten lust. True stories.

Take the tale of Peter Abelard, the greatest scholar of the twelfth century who fell into a tangle of lust and love with the brilliant young woman he tutored. Theirs was a torrid affair, furtive between books and lessons, all in secret because Abelard could not marry; it would have ruined his career. Nevertheless, when Heloise became pregnant, he wed her. Discovering it, her guardian feared Abelard meant to hide her away in a convent, and hired a pair of thugs to visit the scholar. In the dark of night, they castrated him. Abelard and Heloise fled to monasteries, but her love never died, her passion remaining undimmed over the years for the man she could no longer have.

Not all medieval lust and love was bawdy or tragic, though. One story tells of a king who swore to his wife that if she bore a girl-child he would see it slain. Alas, the queen gave birth to a girl. So she dressed her daughter in boy’s clothes and raised her as a prince. Then came the day her father betrothed her to a princess. As youth are wont to do, they fell in love. Moved by their attachment, Cupid intervened. Lo and behold, with a kiss the girl-prince became a man.

But I mustn’t leave out a huge part of history’s lure to me: the heroes.

One vastly popular story tells of the knight Owein’s greatest adventure. Realizing he’s spent his warrior’s life sinning left and right, the valiant Owein seeks the entrance to Purgatory on earth. Finding it, he plunges in, taking only courage and unwavering faith with him. None of the fiery, vicious torments of the torture chambers can touch him, though. Confident, he walks out a stronger, more valiant knight for the purifying trials he has endured.

Finally, one of my favorites, a true story from a Muslim memoire. We all know of the Templars as mighty warriors. They fought for medieval Christendom like Green Berets today fight for America. And just as Green Berets, many Templars were men of great compassion and understanding too. During the crusades in a city occupied by Christian forces, one day a Muslim warrior entered a former mosque—converted to a church—to say his prayers. A French knight who’d just arrived in the East, full of the conceit of a foreigner, grabbed up the Muslim to throw him out. Five Templars drew swords and came to the Muslim’s defense. They claimed the house of prayer must be for all.

Why do I love history? For its laughter, its passion, its stories of love and pure, unadulterated lust for life. For how it shows us bravery, courage and compassion are human traits, not confined to one era or one culture. For all its marvelous lures.

Why do you love history?                                                                                                               

Katharine Ashe lives in the wonderfully warm Southeast with her husband, son, two dogs, and a garden she likes to call romantic rather than unkempt. A professor of European history, she has made her home in California, Italy, France, and the northern US. Booklist named Ashe one of the “New Stars of Historical Romance” and RT Book Reviews awarded her debut, Swept Away By A Kiss, a “TOP PICK!”, calling it “a page-turner and a keeper.” Please visit her at , where she has a free Regency ghost novel for those of you who like a touch of haunting with your history.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Regency Romance by Jacqueline Seewald

I find Regency romances fascinating. I’ve read many hundreds of novels in the genre. In this regard, I am like many other devoted readers. Regency romance has endured for a long time and I believe will continue to be popular. However, Regency romance fans are very particular about historical references. They want them to be completely accurate. To this effect, I did extensive research, reading and collecting numerous histories of this era as well as biographies of people who lived in those times before I wrote TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS. For example, Mr. Brockton who is my heroine’s benefactor, runs a posh gaming establishment where many thousands of pounds exchanged hands each night. It is frequented by the cream of the ton. His character is based on an actual person, a gambler, who went from fish monger to millionaire and then lost it all again.

For those who are not familiar with Regency, let’s define it. When we talk about the Regency era, we mean the brief period lasting between 1811-1820 in England. However, for the sake of the novels, the era begins at the tail end of the Georgian period in about 1800. It includes the scope of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, a period of turmoil, social unrest and political revolution.

The novels of Jane Austen set in that era have caught the imagination of both readers and writers for centuries. Georgette Heyer was one of the writers who created her own novels set in the Regency era. These romances have also influenced many readers and writers. Her novels even introduced their own unique vocabulary.

At the time I initially wrote TEA LEAVES AND TAROT CARDS, I was working as a librarian with easy access to a multitude of reference sources. So my research proved both enjoyable and relatively easy. Now the internet offers so much valuable information on the Regency era which makes research more convenient. Here are just a few of the wonderful websites I recently located:

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Newsletter Help

With the release date of The Tapestry Shop coming ever closer, I’ve had to jockey my time between writing, and getting the word out about my book. My readers may find today’s blog helpful, as most of us have something we’d like to share, from time to time, with either friends, family, a social group, or perhaps members of your church or book club or P.T.A. For authors, marketing has become a fact of life, like it or not, and we all must look for ways to let our readers know about our newest story, methods that won’t suck up precious writing time, and won’t strain the budget.

Any element of marketing may work for some and not for others, but I thought I’d share with you something I learned this week. If, like me, you don’t know html, I’ve found a solution. I was looking for a template for a newsletter, and ran across a site that compares the Top 10 sites, rather like a Consumer Guide for email services. 
To my surprise, among those top 10, I found one that for $8 a month, will keep your email lists in groups (alumni, RWA friends, etc.) so you can send a personalized newsletter to one group or all. After they send your newsletter out, you can cancel the service until you need to send something again, and you’re not charged for those months. However, your lists are still there, and you can add names or delete them during those cancelled months.

I signed up for the free trial, and during this time, they helped me bring the look of my website to my proposed newsletter. Thus, I have an original design that matches the feel and theme I wanted. But that’s not all. They have a free webform you can put on your website so people can sign up to receive your newsletter (you can also put it on Twitter or FB or wherever). They have instant Chat help, and even made a quick video to show me how to do something. So now I have my newsletter parked on their site until I’m ready to send it out. You can publish your newsletter on the web, too. Your lists can be imported from spread sheets or CSV files so you don’t have to type all your contacts in, or laboriously copy/paste. There are other sites out there that I’m sure do the same thing, but I chose Mad Mimi, and am having fun designing my own newsletter.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Is it Magical Realism or Fantasy?

Magical Realism is a term first used by a German art critic, and over time, it evolved into a literary term. Gabriel Garcia Marquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude) is usually the writer most referenced when discussing Magical Realism, but other authors have employed his techniques, and now there are several whose work is held up as an example of the style of writing.

Sometimes, as authors, we use the term to describe a genre, but the elements of Magical Realism can be found in several genres. There are, however, similar threads that run through stories generally recognized as being Magical Realism.

Erroneously, Magical Realism is often described as fantasy, or science fiction. It is neither of these. Fantasy is speculative, allowing us to wonder, “What if vampires were real?” or “What if there were werewolves?” Magical realism, on the other hand, is always serious, and never escapist. It tries to convey the reality of a world view that exists, or did exist.

Magical Realism tells a story from the perspective of people who live in our world and experience a different reality. It shows the world through others’ eyes. In Magical Realism, unreal elements are very real. It invites the reader to see the world like fellow humans might see it. Elements of story portray the ordinary as astonishing, and the astonishing as ordinary.

Perhaps it is best explained by saying the reader of Magical Realism remains grounded in the real world, while experiencing a scene as another might see it. Fantasy, on the other hand, is not grounded in reality, but rather in the unreal.

Only by reading authors like Marquez, or a book like Leslie Silko’s Ceremony, can we fully understand what Magical Realism is. When well done, levitation and flying carpets, such as Marquez used in One Hundred Years of Solitude, leave us sorting through the experience long after the book is finished, trying to return to what we see as objective reality. As an example, read an excerpt from one of Marquez’ short stories. It opens with this:

“On the third day of rain they had killed so many crabs

inside the house that Pelayo had to cross his drenched courtyard

and throw them into the sea, because the newborn child had a

temperature all night and they thought it was due to the stench.

The world had been a sad thing since Tuesday. Sea and sky were a

single ash-gray thing and the sands of the beach, which on March

nights glimmered like powdered light, had become a stew of mud

and rotten shellfish. The light was so weak at noon that when

Pelayo was coming back to the house after throwing away the

crabs, it was hard to see what it was that was moving and groaning

in the rear of the courtyard. He had to go very close to see that it

was an old man, a very old man, lying face down in the mud, who,

in spite of his tremendous efforts, couldn’t get up, impeded by his

enormous wings.”

The writing and scene is grounded in the real world, where an old man with wings lies on the ground.

Leave a comment and let me know if you've read any of Marquez’ books. Authors, do you use Magical Realism in telling your stories?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Do Authors Need a Fan Page?

At the RWA National conference, I sat in on an informative workshop about building your career with Facebook and Twitter. The speakers were Sheri Brooks, Cissy Hartley, and Jayne Ann Krentz. Here are some key points they made, and a few hints that might be helpful for other writers who, like me, are scrambling to keep up with how we can best use our time to market our books.

I don’t Twitter (not yet, anyway) so most of my notes were about utilizing Facebook as a tool to make friends in the reading/writing community.

The speakers emphasized the benefits of a Fan Page on Facebook. Even though you may not have “fans” that you know of, a fan page is a place to update what is taking place in your writing life. Before you say, “Whoa. I don’t have time to keep another page up,” let me explain. You can add an RSS feed on your Page, so that updates go there without you having to do it individually. It holds your book covers and any other content you want to put there, such as upcoming releases or signings.

Put Widgets on your FB page so entries will go to your Home Page. Also, use the Discussion Tab on your Fan Page. The speakers suggested holding a writers’ workshop, where people can pose questions.

Fans can interact with each other by using the Wall or Discussion Board on your fan page. Also, as admin, you have access to stats on the traffic for your fan page.

On your Fan Page, you can have a Favorites Pages box, where you highlight other pages you like. It could serve as a link-exchange tool and bring you more fans.

Once you get your Fan Page up (and you can do it all behind the scenes before you click “Publish”), put out an announcement that you’ve opened a Fan Page and that there is a contest there. A prize offering will guide them to your fan page.

So, now that I’ve told you what I learned, I’m going to try to build a Fan Page myself. Authors: Let me know if you have one already, or if it’s something you want to do. Readers: Would you like your fav author to have a fan page, where you could keep up with her books and discuss them with other fans?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Publisher information at RWA

In a departure from my usual blog postings, I'm going to offer a quick replay of what I learned in various Publisher Spotlight sessions at the recent RWA conference in Orlando this past week. In spite of the change of venue, necessary because of the floods in Nashville, the conference went off smoothly. For my workshop on Researching for Historicals, the room had been prepared and all was in readiness. That, combined with my capable moderator, Megan Kelly , herself an author with a later workshop, made the workshop a success, if I can judge by the comments afterward.
     Before attending national, I was familiar with local chapter conferences, where I honed the craft and improved my writing skills. To this day, I strongly recommend  RWA workshops to any aspiring author, no matter the genre.
     That said, the RWA National offers not only wonderful workshops about the craft, career choices, and marketing, but also includes something that smaller conferences cannot justify, financially. Bringing top-notch N.Y. editors from popular publishing houses to present panels on what they're looking for and how to submit, makes the price of the conference fee worth every dime.
     To my surprise, I learned that Sourcebooks, Grand Central, and St. Martin's all take unagented material from published authors, if done according to their guidelines. (Email me if you need further info.) Since my previous agent and I have parted ways, my ears perked up when I heard this. 
     For unpublished authors, talks by agents like Ethan Ellenberg, Kristen Nelson, and others, gave an insight as to how to write the query and synopsis that will grab their attention. They are, after all, looking for that next great author who will rise from the slush pile to the NYTimes best-seller list.
     So save your pennies (well, okay, dollars) for next year's RWA National in N.Y. City. I promise you, you'll not be disappointed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

If You Love History. . .

One of the highlights of my recent London visit was to Westminster Abbey, the church in which many historical figures were married, crowned, and buried. The abbey is a virtual history of England, and to visit there was like walking into the past.

London Skyline from the Thames
Your ticket allows entry to almost every part of the abbey and grounds. Some of the more memorable sights in the abbey were the St. Edward Shrine, Henry VIII’s Lady Chapel, and the coronation chair used by Edward I in the 13th century (and by every succeeding monarch during the coronation ceremony).

Thousands of notables are buried at Westminster Abbey, from kings and statesmen to men of ordinary birth who later gained fame, such as Charles Dickens, George Frederic Handel, and Charles Darwin.

The Pyx chamber is one of the earliest parts of the abbey, and one that caught the eye of this medievalist. The chamber was built around 1070 and has low vaulted ceilings and tile floors, giving at a medieval feel. It was probably used as the treasury in the 13th century, and Henry III may have used it as a sacristy. In 1303 the treasury was stolen while the king was in Scotland. The abbot and monks were suspected and sent to the Tower, but were later released when the real culprit was identified and hung. After the theft, builders installed heavy double oak doors, which guard the entrance to this day. Inside the chamber are two large 13th century chests, emptied now of their valuables. Earlier, the Pyx Chamber held wooden boxes (pyxes) which contained coins of the realm. The coins awaited the recurring public demonstration, where a few coins were melted down to prove their purity.

I could have spent another full day or two in Westminster Abbey, but there were other places I needed to see, like the library I’ll blog about in my next post.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Medusa Heads and a Sinking Palace

Justinian, the 6th century Byzantine emperor, built a system of cisterns beneath the city of Constantinople, now Istanbul in Turkey. One of these cisterns, dubbed the “sinking palace” by locals, can be seen by visitors, and is unusual because the cistern itself resembles an abandoned palace. It is one of several hundred cisterns which lie beneath a thriving metropolis of trams and city streets.

The 336 Roman columns supporting the massive structure are what give the cistern the look of a palace hall, but the columns do not match, having been brought to the site by the builders, who confiscated them from Roman ruins throughout the city.

The columns support an area designed to hold 27 million gallons of water, which was piped in from twelve miles away through clay pipes and aqueducts.

Through the years, the pipes became clogged and the cistern fell into disuse. In the 15th century, a Dutch visitor to the city discovered the abandoned cistern when he noted that families were getting water from buckets dropped through holes in their basements. The citizens discovered the Roman columns and quickly realized they had a treasure beneath their city. A clean-up operation was begun, which unearthed a mystery.

Two marble Medusa heads are wedged beneath two of the columns. One head lies on its side, the other is upside down. There is disagreement as to why the heads were brought there. Some believe they were simply put there to elevate the two columns to the required height to match the others, but others believe the heads were taken there because of the Medusa legend, and the fact that statues of Medusa were said to protect a building from damage by attacking armies.

What is known is that we will never discover the truth about the Medusa heads, nor why an emperor would have condoned the use of recycled building materials for a project so vital to the city. Could it have been his wife, that much-maligned empress Theodora, who may have suggested recycling the Roman columns, thereby teaching the emperor a lesson in frugality?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Chained Library at Hereford

Documents dating from the 8th century draw researchers to this old library in the UK. The cathedral stands on a site where worshippers have joined together for twelve-hundred years. Today, the library of the Hereford Cathedral is known for its medieval books and the precious Mappa Mundi, a medieval map that gives visitors an insight as to how medieval scholars saw the world.

The library is perhaps best known for its unique security system. Chaining books was a widespread practice during the Middle Ages, when printed books were priceless and hand-written volumes took years to produce. The Hereford Cathedral library is the largest surviving chained library. The chains, rods, and locks are intact, just as when first utilized.

Chains are attached to the front of the books, and the forepages, instead of the spine, face the front of the shelf. That way, the books can be removed for reading at the desk, without the risk of tangling the chain. The library also has blocks and printing presses from 1611. Music recitals and other cultural events are held there. The library currently serves as a research center for the cathedral, and is a major tourist attraction for the town of Hereford.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Medieval Manuscripts in a Swiss Library

This is the second of several blogs about old libraries that are worth seeing.
The Abbey Library of St. Gall in eastern Switzerland holds over 140,000 manuscripts, including some original parchments dating from the 9th century.
The library has been in existence since 719, and was named after St. Gall, an Irish hermit whose hermitage was on this same spot. After his death, a small church was erected on the site. The church later developed into the Abbey of St. Gall, which came to be an important monastery renowned for its scriptorium and the scholars who worked there. The institution became secularized in the 18th century, after a series of political wars.
The library is one of the richest repositories of medieval literature in the world, and is designated as an UNESCO World Heritage site. Many of the manuscripts were copied by Anglo-Saxon and Irish monks. As the holdings of the library became known, Charlemagne requested chanters be sent from Rome to the abbey, and these singers helped spread the use of Gregorian Chant throughout the territory.
Over two thousand handwritten books remain in the library collection, and the digitalization of the priceless collection is still underway. Some of these documents can be seen on the Codices Electronici Sangallences webpage, and at Intuit in UK (register to search and save data), the manuscripts are translated into several languages, including English.
The abbey library interior is in the Rococo style, with carved wood, stucco, and paint exemplary of the period (see picture above). Exhibitions and concerts are held there, and the library is open to the public.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Libraries Worth Traveling to See

Tucked away, in hidden corners of the world, are some old libraries, with soaring ceilings and paintings to match the Sistine Chapel. These treasures are all over the globe, including in the U.S., and I’ll be blogging about several in the weeks to come.
The library in Strahov Monastery in Prague holds documents going back centuries. Their most prized possession is a 9th century document, heavily ornamented, but that is not the only treasure there. The shelves are filled with priceless old manuscripts, most dating from the 17th and 18th centuries.
The library has suffered setbacks since its origin. In 1258 a fire damaged the building, and later, in the 15th century, Hussite warriors ransacked the monastery. When Sweden invaded Prague, they took many of the precious books back with them to Sweden.
After the Thirty Years War, the books were stored in a new hall, the present Theological Hall, built in 1679 (see photo at top). For years after that, to prevent fire or theft, readers were not permitted to bring a light inside the hall, or to stay after 7:30 p.m.
Over the centuries, the library became so renowned throughout Europe that visitors came from afar, not only to study the documents but also to see the library itself. Among those visitors was Napoleon’s wife, Mary Louise, who came in 1812.
The library is opened to visitors daily except for a few holidays. The public may use the card catalogue, and books may be read in the study hall, but because of the age and great value of the books, it is forbidden to take them from the library.
My next blog will be about another magnificent library, in another city. If you love libraries like I do, sign up to follow my blog. You may discover a treasure not far from where you live.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

A Village Where No One Lives

In the west-central part of France, the town of Oradour, where no one lives, has been preserved in its abandoned state since 1944. While doing research for my historical novel, The Tapestry Shop, I came upon this once-thriving village, now a solemn reminder of WWII and innocent lives lost.
There is disagreement as to the exact reason for what took place, but the events that unfolded there are unquestioned. On a sunny morning in June, members of the 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich entered this peaceful village. They ordered all the men to go to the fairgrounds, saying their mission was an identity check. The women and children were herded into the village church. After a bomb failed to detonate, the men were executed, to the last man, after which the women and children were massacred in the church. The few villagers who had not gone to the church or fairgrounds, for reasons of disability, were hunted down and killed. The houses were searched for anything of value, and the town was set on fire.
While the town burned, the Germans left the area and marched north to join the German forces in Normandy, where they hoped to fight off the invading armies.
Of all the memorials in France, this village may have made the most lasting impression on me. As you walk the empty streets, images of what was a community of people can be seen in the ruins—a rusted bicycle, an automobile that was never driven after that fateful day, the drooping telephone wires that lined the road where vacant homes now stand in ruin, the roofs gone, the walls crumbling. To this author, it remains a stark reminder of the horrors of war. At the entrance is a simple plaque. The words, written in both French and English, say simply,
To Remember.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Orphans at Savonnerie

My current work-in-progress takes place in and around Paris, and concerns the orphans at the Savonnerie tapestry factory. Because I found the research so interesting, I thought I'd share a bit of it with my readers.
During the 15th century, Jean Gobelin founded a dye factory in Paris. Later, Henry IV took over the factory and turned it into a profitable tapestry factory. In 1601, the king brought two weavers from Flanders to Paris to manage the workshops, which were still known as the Gobelin factory.
Some sixty of the workers came from a Paris orphanage. They ranged in age from ten to twelve. The two weavers taught them the craft, and even brought in a tutor once a week to instruct in the art of drawing cartoons, the patterns weavers follow to make the tapestries.
After six years of apprenticeship, one of these orphans, supposedly the one who exhibited the most talent, was chosen as maître. The rest continued as journeymen.
The Gobelin factory tapestries were admired by royalty, and became so valuable only royals could afford them. Louis XIV’s Minister of Finance commissioned several for the king, which took years to produce. Some of the Gobelin tapestries, like the one pictured here, can be seen at Versailles.
The Gobelin name continues, and now the word Gobelin describes not only a weaving technique, but also a color, the best known of which is Gobelin Blue.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Tapestry and weaving has always held a fascination for me, even though I’ve never learned the craft. I’ve seen weavers at reenactments, and tapestries in museums, though. Many of them reflect the geographical location and time period in which they were created. If you google “tapestries” in Wikimedia Commons, you’ll see what I mean. Those by Spanish artists are different from the French, just as painting style and medium differ.
Today, though, I’m blogging about a different kind of tapestry—one created with flowers. Every two years, since 1971, the city of Brussels has an exhibition that draws tourists from miles around. The image above shows the completed floral masterpiece, made of 700,000 begonias. The flowers are arranged on a transparent piece of plastic, perforated to allow enough humidity to reach the blooms to keep them looking fresh longer.
This particular pattern was copied from a tapestry, one of the French Savonnerie. The Savonnerie workshop was founded in Paris in 1628, and produced lavish tapestries for royal palaces, as well as for state gifts and commissions. Now, almost all original Savonnerie tapestries of the 17th and 18th centuries are in museums.
The workshop apprenticed orphans to work in the factory. Where they came from and what they learned is the subject of my next blog.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Medieval Income Taxes

Papal taxes, begun in the 12th century, required Catholic clergy to pay one-fortieth of their income to support the crusaders. The practice was continued by later popes. Originally, the taxes went directly to the crusaders.
In the 13th century, the collection of taxes supported crusades outside the Holy Land, such as Pope Gregory IX’s war against Frederick II, the Holy Roman Emperor. The taxes went straight to the pope to distribute as he saw fit, or in some cases, to a nobleman who promised to go on crusade.
During the 14th and 15th centuries, papal taxes were used for wars against the Ottoman Turks and others. Next time you pay income taxes, remember that it’s not a new institution, and nothing much has changed. Working citizens still have to pay, and don’t have much to say about how the governing body spends it.

The image is of Mercury, god of Commerce, handing a bag of gold to the financier of the Revolutionary War.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Stolen Stradivarius

There are several documented stories of stolen Stradivarius violins, but one of the most interesting was reported in the New York Times in 1996.
The violin thief, sitting in jail for having assaulted a child, told his wife to get his violin from a friend, and read the paper inside. She did, and it was an article about a Polish violinist whose Stradivarius violin had been taken from his Carnegie Hall dressing room while he performed on another instrument. The thief’s wife asked if that was the stolen violin. He said it was, but that he had bought it for $100. Later, he confessed to having stolen it himself. He had frequented the entrance doors of the concert hall, and made friends with the doormen by offering to take their place while they went for a smoke. He told his wife that his mother had taught him how to hide a violin in his coat, and that she had always wanted him to be a famous violinist.
When the thief died, his wife returned the violin to Lloyd’s of London and received a finder’s fee of $263,000 dollars.
The thief’s daughter, by his first marriage, was heir to her father’s estate. She sued the thief’s wife and won in court. The judge agreed that the finder’s fee should have been part of the estate.
By that time, the wife was living in a trailer and had spent all the money. She paid her attorney 10% for negotiating the finder’s fee. The rest was given to her family and the IRS.
Lloyd’s sold it for $1.2 million in 1988, and more recently, Joshua Bell, the violinist who made the soundtrack for The Red Violin, paid $4 million for the treasured Stradivarius violin that had seen so many owners.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stradivarius Violins

Antonio Stradivari was born in Cremona, Italy, sometime around 1644, but the exact date of his birth is unknown. His life spanned two centuries, and he died in 1737.
Antonio was an Italian luthier, a craftsman of stringed instruments. He also made violas, cellos, and at least one harp. The Latin form of his name, Stradivarius, refers to his violins. Antonio had six children by his first wife, and five by his second. His sons worked in the shop, and some of the signed Stradivarius violins are probably signed by his sons.
Antonio Stradivari may have studied under Amati, whose violins were highly prized during that time, more so than Antonio’s. The Stradivari alterations to the Amati models were what brought fame to Stradivari. He changed the arch, varied the thickness of the wood, and used more highly colored varnish, as well as other modifications.
Over the years, as his violins became prized, they were hidden, stolen, and sold, increasing in value with each passing decade.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Tapestry in Medici Florence

It is difficult to think of Renaissance art in Italy without the d’Medici family name coming to mind. In 15th century Florence, Cosimo d’Medici’s patronage of the arts supported the work of Brunelleschi, Michelangelo, Botticelli, and others. Less celebrated are the Florentine tapestries. The Medici family supported tapestry workshops that thrived within the city. Tapestries were in demand to decorate the halls of new buildings as well as the palace itself.
The Florentine cartoonists (artists who designed the compositions that were translated into the tapestries) joined in the spirit of the times, leaving behind the sacred, and embracing all that was vibrant and alive in Florence. One of these men, Giovanni Stradano, a painter and engraver familiar with the methods used in the production of tapestries in Flanders, moved to Florence in 1545 and worked at the Medici court.
The picture illustrates the Giostra del Saracino, a type of jousting tournament which was once very popular among the citizens, being held in front of Palazzo Medici. Via Larga, in which the palazzo stands, is shown from the north looking towards Piazza Duomo. From the foreground, moving backwards we can see the Medici residence, with the houses annexed in the fifteenth century on the right, followed by the church of San Giovannino.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter in France begins with Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras), a part of Carnival. Because of France’s strong Catholic tradition, their calendar observes the same days that Catholic churches all over the world do: Ash Wednesday, Lent, Holy Thursday, and Good Friday leading up to Easter.
Most Americans associate Mardi Gras with New Orleans, but the first Carnival was celebrated in Nice, France. Carnival in France lasts for two weeks, with parades, fireworks, and masked balls.
Since the 12th century, all the bells in France are silenced on the Thursday before Good Friday. Most villages and cities in France have at least one church with a bell, like this cathedral in Arras, France. French children all know that the bells have departed for Rome. On Easter, the bells (les cloches de Paques) return, bringing with them Easter eggs and chocolate. The bells drop the treats along the way as they pass through the skies, making their way back to their belfries.
Another tradition, happening around April 1, is Poisson d’Avril. On this day, children make paper fish and stick them on the backs of unsuspecting adults.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Tapestry in France

Hospices de Beaune, a former almshouse of the 15th century, is now a museum, one of the buildings in a complex that has grown since its early beginning.
Although the Hundred Years War officially ended with the Treaty of Arras in 1435, massacres continued, initiated by roving bands of misfits who roamed the countryside.
Burgundy was then rules by Philip the Good. His Chancellor, Nicolas Rolin, alarmed by the plight of the people in Beaune, decided to create a hospital for the destitute.
Together with his wife, Guigone de Salins, they opened the doors and admitted the first patient in January of 1452. Even now, patients are still being treated there, although in modern medical facilities on the grounds.
Guigone de Salins, the Chancellor’s wife and foundress of the hospital, commissioned 140 square meters of tapestries for the chapel and to cover the beds of the main sickroom. One of these is seen in the picture to the right. These tapestries from the 15th century are still in the old hospital, and three of them are exhibited in the museum. Grateful patients and families in neighboring villages have contributed gifts through the centuries, and the Hospices de Beaune has grown into a Burgundian institution welcoming visitors by the thousands to the museum.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Valois tapestries

As evident in my web design, I am fond of tapestries, and sat for a few hours to look at the Bayeux Tapestries in that dimly lit, cold room in France. I guess others have done the same thing, as there are bleachers to sit on while taking in the enormity of all that art.
This tapestry, adjacent, is part of the Valois Tapestries, one of a series of eight tapestries depicting events in the French court during the 16th century. It was possibly owned at one time by Catherine de’Medici, but was not listed as a possession in the inventory of her belongings after her death.
The tapestry was based on designs by Antoine Caron, a 15th c. artist, and a second artist, possibly Lucas de Heere, who altered Caron's designs. Some historians believe that the presence of Turks alongside the Huguenots (Calvinists, or French protestants), indicates that both groups were considered to be infidels by the Valois rulers. This tapestry depicts the meeting of the Valois and Habsburg courts at Bayonne. The whale is spouting red wine.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Women in the Crusades

Perhaps the most notable of crusading women was that formidable queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine (1120-1204), who took the cross with her first husband, Louis VII. Along with 300 of her women and hundreds of her knights, she took part in the Second Crusade, insisting the women were only there to tend to the wounded. Chroniclers, however, wrote that she took an active part in decision-making, and insisted on being included in strategy sessions.
In later crusades, women from all levels of society joined the crusade. The Church, however, took a dim view of this, and from pulpits throughout France, discouraged women from taking vows to crusade. An exception was made for washerwomen, deemed a necessary element so that clothes could be kept clean, a precaution to eliminate lice. Besides, washerwomen were sometimes older, widows and the unmarried, who were thought to be less tempting to men who had left their families behind.
Muslim chroniclers specifically mention Christian women’s involvement in the crusades, not only as camp followers and supportive wives and mothers, but also as participants for purely religious reasons.
Constance Rousseau, in Gendering the Crusades, stated that by the thirteenth century, liturgical, penitential and financial support which involved both sexes had become an established feature in the crusading movement.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Robert II of Artois

Robert II, Count of Artois, lived during the thirteenth century, and a few years into the 14th century. Robert was the nephew of Louis IX, later known as Saint Louis.
During Robert’s youth in the city of Arras, he had a reputation for initiating boyish pranks, such as bringing a falcon into church, or turning farm animals loose to cause mischief.
As he grew into manhood, he became an experienced soldier. He also participated in the Aragonese Crusade, a part of the War of the Sicilian Vespers. His shield probably blazed with the Coat of Arms on the right, that of Artois.
During Robert’s lifetime, he married three times, always to women of nobility. He was a patron of the arts, and as such, continued the family practice of supporting numerous French artists and musicians. It is generally believed that he was the patron of Adam de la Halle, on whose life my October release, The Tapestry Shop, is based. Thus, Robert and his French court figure prominently in the book.